Allen Pike 2016-08-31T23:44:10-07:00 Allen Pike Creative destruction 2016-08-31T22:00:00-07:00 Allen Pike <p>Yesterday, Brent Simmons <a href="">shut down Vesper</a>. It was hard for Brent and the team at Q Branch. Endings are often sad, but ending a software product stings in a unique way.</p> <p>Software is deeply impermanent. While it is often built painstakingly and methodically, it is experienced ephemerally, in the moment. Apps are hard to preserve for study or posterity. Network-backed apps, doubly so.</p> <p>Worse, software only stays alive with diligent maintenance. Left alone, the wheel of technological change soon breaks the assumptions underlying the code. This kills the crab.</p> <p>It can be deeply unsettling – our best work is cyclically swept away. On the other hand, it’s why software is such a wonderful and exciting field – everything is always new.</p> <p><a href=""><img style='max-width: 100%' src="/images/2016/classics-iphone.png" style="float: right; width: 150px" /></a></p> <p>The early days of the App Store were all about polished new apps on a polished new platform. While web developers have long thrown up experiments and demos to gather feedback and gauge interest, the App Store took a different tack:</p> <blockquote> <p>Demos, betas, and trial versions of your app don’t belong on the App Store.</p> </blockquote> <p>iOS was about finished software, and the attention, novelty, and profits that might follow. While traditional paths to sustainability like upgrades or subscriptions were missing, the hit-driven nature of paid apps and top charts meant that the focus was squarely on a great launch.</p> <p>Thus for many, the process looked like so:</p> <ol> <li>Evaluate a bunch of app ideas, and pick the best one.</li> <li>Prototype it and demo it.</li> <li>Iterate it and beta test it.</li> <li>Polish until proud of the resulting gem.</li> <li>Release it to the world, hopefully with great fanfare.</li> <li>Perhaps see outsized success, but more likely find that the revenue just wasn’t sustainable.</li> <li>GOTO 1.</li> </ol> <p>At Steamclock, we repeated these steps a few times. We did manage to disprove a couple ideas with quick prototypes, but once we got excited about a project, it would take on a life of its own. Our love of the craft would kick in, and we’d be driven to share it with the world. As much as we love shipping polished software though, it’s a shockingly <a href="">expensive way to test whether or not people will pay for something</a>.</p> <h2 id="duh">Duh</h2> <p>This is, of course, common sense and well known in our industry. You need to be shelving a certain percentage of product ideas at each step in their evolution, rather than just at the idea stage or far later when they’ve proved wildly unprofitable. Sometimes, I suppose, an obvious lesson needs to be beaten into one’s skull.</p> <p>So, more recently, we’ve been attempting more ideas but shipping fewer attempts. Less wood behind more arrows. In the time it takes to polish and ship one app, we can do prototyping and market research on a dozen. Since we retired Prism, we’ve prototyped a Meetup competitor, an Apple Music app, an iMessage app, a <a href="">podcast recording service</a>, an Android music app, an <a href="">invoicing system</a>, and even a strategy game. We’ve had fun and learned a lot.</p> <p>Now, most of those prototypes will never turn into a profitable product, but I suspect one of them will. Killing the others isn’t fun, but you’ve got to know when to fold ‘em. That’s what makes the difference between toiling for too long on something not enough people will pay for, and having the bandwidth to ship something new that changes the world.</p> <p>Or, at least, keeps the lights on.</p> New Here 2016-07-31T22:00:00-07:00 Allen Pike <p>On July 11, we welcomed Elizabeth Pike into our family. She weighed only 4.6 lbs, most of which was cheek. She was rather early and very small, so we spent our first week with her in the hospital, where she fuelled up on the world’s tiniest IV.</p> <p><img style='max-width: 100%' src="/images/2016/ellie-iv.jpg" /></p> <p>Over that first week she graduated to the world’s tiniest feeding tube, then to feeding all on her own. By day 6, she could eat an entire 37 millilitres at once! I was rather proud of that. Admittedly, her accomplishment was drinking less than a shot glass worth of tepid milk. Still, those moments, those celebrations of tiny things, they knit your heart in love very quickly. The tiny firsts of a tiny life.</p> <p>While I say that Ellie is tiny, most people haven’t met a baby that is quite so small. By her second day, she was down to 4.3 pounds. While such a weight isn’t incredibly rare, babies her size don’t exactly crawl down the street every day. As such, it can be difficult to put her smallness into context for friends and family. 4.3 lbs is less than a two litre carton of milk. She’s too small for any baby carrier or “convertible” car seat. Newborn diapers are huge on her, which is not exactly a desirable attribute in diapers. Preemie sized diapers exist, but are difficult to find on short notice, which is also not a desirable attribute in diapers.</p> <p>So, Ellie is pretty small. (Banana for scale.)</p> <p><img style='max-width: 100%' src="/images/2016/ellie-banana.jpg" /></p> <p>While being so thin and light makes Ellie the most pocketable Pike yet, it dramatically limits her battery life. Her desire to sleep for hours uninterrupted is mostly delightful, but with a stomach smaller than an egg, it means she runs out of food to digest before she wakes. As such, in order to keep her growing, we’ve been instructed to wake her and feed her every 3 hours, day and night.</p> <p>Since she’s not yet strong enough to breastfeed for the entire feed, this feeding ritual takes 1 to 2 hours. We change, breastfeed, burp, bottle feed, pump, clean, burp, and – often – change again. Once that’s done, we can put her down for an hour before the wheel rolls ‘round again. Where the week was once broken into 24 hour cycles, it is now made of 3 hour cycles.</p> <p>Raising a baby, I’ve found, makes one more aware of time. In addition to feeding time 8-10 times a day, babies also need bath time, tummy time, bare-butt time, skin-to-skin time, vitamin-d-drop time, and a variety of other times as per the instruction manual that comes with every baby. While these rituals can be quite satisfying, they add up to rather a lot of time.</p> <p>New parents often ask rhetorically, “What did I do with all my time before the baby came?” While reallocation of time would be a simple explanation for all this newfound time, my sense has been that having a baby has <em>created</em> time. I have observed, since her arrival, entirely new hours in the day. This “time dilation” effect seems to occur after the end of each day, before the start of the next. I previously had not perceived these hours, but it turns out they can be used for a range of activities, as long as those activities involve putting milk into a baby.</p> <p>And perhaps, on occasion – when everybody else is sleeping – a bit of writing.</p> Organizational Size Classes 2016-06-30T18:00:00-07:00 Allen Pike <p>The best thing about organizations is that they are made of people. However, just as more money causes more problems, so it is with people. In fact, the number of people in an organization may be the most important signal in understanding how it thinks and acts.</p> <p>For example, there’s a huge transition when a company grows beyond <a href="">Dunbar’s number</a>, since when a company grows beyond 150 people, it effectively splits into multiple organizations. The other big discontinuity in how a company works – the one that’s more interesting to me due to it currently staring me in the face – happens around 15 people.</p> <p><img style='max-width: 100%' src="/images/2016/steamclock-office-banner.jpg" /></p> <p>You see, a small company is a thing of beauty. Everybody is on the same page. You know what each other are up to, you know how each other think, and everyone being in the same Slack channel doesn’t drive you bananas. You can have lunch together. You don’t have teams, managers, direct reports, and you certainly don’t have departments. You just have folks doing stuff, with maybe one or two people coordinating, and it’s great.</p> <p>I have a lot of love for small, flat teams, and when we started Steamclock six years ago the idea was to build the best small team in Vancouver. My love for indie software companies has always been intertwined with my love for small teams. The idea of every employee actually designing or developing software is delightful.</p> <p>Unfortunately though, a leader can only directly lead a certain number of people. Much beyond 10, and things start to fall through the cracks. The team gets out of sync and people don’t get the support they need. In a one-level team you can often stretch it to 15, but at that point there are two main solutions: stop growing, or start adopting some sort of management structure.</p> <p>Growth wasn’t a goal when we started Steamclock. The fact that we’re at 12 people still seems odd to me some days. One thing I’ve learned over the years, though, is that while overly aggressive growth is dangerous, stagnancy can be too. Specifically, growth opens opportunities for your people to grow with your company rather than outgrow it. While the most important aspect of this is retaining employees, the same goes for founders. In retrospect, I think that the slow ramp in challenge in my job as we’ve grown is what’s kept me engaged and enjoying this job longer than any I’ve ever had.</p> <p>Yet now that <a href="">Pikelet</a> is fast approaching, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how the company is going to roll while I’m on parental leave. It turns out, too often I’ve been the bottleneck to a given project or process, often for no good reason. Where at 5 people it felt like the team was accelerating me, at 12 people it’s sometimes felt like I’m slowing them down.</p> <p>So, more and more, I’ve been working consciously to push information, trust, and authority to the team. When somebody asks me a question where the answer is clear, I try not to just answer it, but <a href="">spread the philosophy behind the answer</a>. When somebody asks for information or access that only I have, I think about how to open that up. I’m constantly looking for ways to not be a bottleneck or switchboard. Years ago if I saw two people collaborating on something that I didn’t know about, it would make me uncomfortable – now it makes me proud.</p> <p>Now, despite these efforts, if we grow larger than 15 or 20, then we’re probably going to need some sort of management structure. This still weirds me out, but increasingly, I can see it working really well. I’ve had some great managers in my career, and I’ve seen how they can provide support, give feedback, help define the mission, and bring attention to problems before shit gets real. Ideally, then, I can work increasingly <a href="">on the business, rather than just in it</a>.</p> <p>And, you know, raise a baby.</p>